Omnibus crime bill on the move

$540,000 provision hurrying through Alaska Legislature

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2007

Police in Alaska would be required to collect a DNA sample from adults arrested for a felony or a crime against another person in a bill that is being hurried through the Alaska Legislature in the last days of session.

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The provision, which comes with a $540,000 price tag, is one of a flurry of crime measures that have been rolled into a single omnibus package that could be on the Senate floor as early as today.

The DNA proposal was first introduced by Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, but languished after a single committee hearing.

It gained traction after the April indictment of a suspect in the 1994 murder of Anchorage college student Bonnie Craig.

Troopers were able to match the semen found on Craig with Kenneth Dion, who was in jail in New Hampshire on robbery charges, through a national computer database of DNA profiles.

The provision was added to the House bill after Dion was charged.

It would toughen existing law, which allows the state to collect DNA only after a felony conviction.

Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, who sponsored the omnibus package, told the Senate Finance Committee on Saturday that the bill also would place limits on use of the information.

"What this would allow is DNA being collected like a fingerprint, it would not be allowed to be used for any other purpose," Samuels said. "If there is no conviction then it would be destroyed."

The provision has raised concerns with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, however.

Executive Director Michael MacLeod-Ball said he is worried the information may not get erased. And he said the procedure constitutes an invasion of privacy and should merit court oversight.

The sample is taken by swabbing the inside of the mouth.

"Just as you can't go into somebody's home without a warrant, similarly you ought not be able to take bodily fluids from somebody without their permission based on a mere arrest," MacLeod Ball said.

If the bill passes, Alaska would join six other states that have changed their laws to allow for DNA collection upon arrest.

The cost of the provision would cover the hiring of four new employees to analyze the samples and enter the information into a database. Deputy district Attorney Rick Svobodny said the money also would allow the Department of Public Safety to work on a backlog of 2,500 DNA samples that are waiting to be analyzed.

The omnibus bill also:

• makes it a misdemeanor for sex offenders to violate their probation or parole;

• requires that a claim for post-conviction relief must be filed within a year of the court's denial of the prior application;

• changes the law that makes it a crime for indecent materials depicting minors to be sent to minors;

• tightens up when bail review hearings may be requested to eliminate what Samuels called "judge shopping;"

• disallows time served while in a half way house, treatment program or electronic monitoring to count as credit or a good time deduction against a jail term;

• requires persons convicted of internet distribution of indecent material to minors to register as a sex offender;

• requires anyone convicted of drunk driving offense have their drivers license or state ID card marked so that restaurants, bars and liquor stores are away they are prohibited from consuming alcohol.

The Senate Finance Committee removed a provision that would make the failure to report certain crimes a crime in itself. The provision was dropped over concerns that it could lead to trial delays because witnesses, who also are charged with failure to report, could refuse to testify on grounds they could be self-incriminating.

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